Plant and Soil

, Volume 76, Issue 1–3, pp 93–104 | Cite as

Earthworms and soil fertility

  • J. K. Syers
  • J. A. Springett
Section 2: Microbial and Animal Effects on Soil Fertility


Earthworms redistribute organic materials within the soil, increase soil penetrability and, und certain conditions, influence ion transport in soils. Root distribution may be modified and microbial activity increased by their burrowing and feeding activities. Earthworms influence the supply of nutrients in several ways. Not only is earthworm tissue and cast material enriched in certain nutrients, relative to the soil matrix, but ingestion of organic material increases the rate of cycling. Certain farm-management practices, such as cultuvation and the use of acidic fertilizers, reduce the ability of earthworm to improve plant growth. Where other inorganic fertilizers increase the growth of plants, an increase in earthworm numbers can be expected because of the increased food supply. Lime, in particular, and possibly drainage also increase earthworm activity. Further research is required on the physical and biological effects of earthworms on nutrient supply, so that suitable management practices can be developed to optimise the beneficial effects of earthworms on soil fertility.

Key words

Biological effects Earthworms Fertilizers Lime Nutrients Physical effects Plant growth Roots Soil fertility 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Barley K P 1959 The influence of earthworms on soil fertility. I. Earthworm populations found in agricultural land near Adelaide. Aust. J. Agric. Res. 10, 171–178.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Barley K P 1961 The abundane of earthworms in agricultural land and their possible significance in agriculture. Adv. Agron. 13, 249–268.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Brady N C 1974 The Nature and Properties of Soils. Macmillan Co., New York, 639 p.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Darwin C R 1881 The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms, with observations on their habits. Murray, London, 326 p.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Edwards C A 1981 Earthworms, soil fertility, and plant growth. pp 61–85,In Proceedings of a Workshop on the Role of Earthworms in the Stabilization of Organic Residues. Ed. M Appelhof. Beechleaf Press, Kalamazoo, Michigan.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Edwards C A and Lofty J R 1978 The influence of arthropods and earthworms upon root growth of direct drilled cereals. J Appl. Ecol. 15, 789–795.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Edwards C A and Lofty J R 1980 Effects of earthworm inoculations on the root growth of direct drilled cereals. J. Appl. Ecol. 17, 533–544.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ellis, F B, Elliott J G, Barnes B T and Howse K R 1977 Comparison of direct drilling, reduced cultivation and ploughing on the growth of cereals. 2. Spring barley on a sandy loam soil: soil physical conditions and root growth. J. Agric. Sci. 89, 631–642.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Graff O and Makeschin F 1980 Crop yield of ryegrass influenced by the excretions of three earthworm species. Pedobiologia 20, 176–180.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Lal R 1978 Influence of within- and between-row mulching on soil temperature, soil moisture, root development and yield of maize (Zea mays L.) in a tropical soil. Field Crops Res. 1, 127–139.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Laverack M S 1961 The Physiology of Earthworms. Pergamon Press, London 206p.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lunt H A and Jacobson G M 1944 The chemical composition of earthworm casts. Soil Science 58, 367–376.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    McColl H P, Hart P B S and Cook F J 1982 Influence of earthworms on some chemical and physical properties, and the growth of ryegrass on a soil after topsoil stripping — a pot experiment. N.Z. J. Agric. Res. 25, 229–237.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Mackay A D, Syers J K, Springett J A and Gregg P E H 1982 Plant availability of phosphorus in superphosphate and a phosphate rock as influences by earthworms. Soil. Biol. Biochem. 14, 281–187.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Mansell G P, Syers J K and Gregg P E H 1981 Plant availability of phosphorus in dead herbage ingested by surface-casting earthworms. Soil Biol. Biochem. 13, 163–167.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Nielsen R L 1951 Effect of soil minerals on earthworms. N. Z. J. Agric. 83, 433–435.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Parle J N 1963 Microorganisms in the intestines of earthworms. J. Gen. Microbiol. 31, 1–11.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    van Rhee J A 1965 Earthworm activity and plant growth in artificial cultures. Plant and Soil 22, 45–48.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Scott Russell R 1977 Plant Root Systems: Their Function and Interaction with the Soil. McGraw-Hill Book Co., London, 298 p.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Scotter D R and Kanchanasut P 1981 Anion movement in a soil under pasture. Aust. J. Soil Res. 19, 299–307.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Satchell J E 1958 Earthworm biology and soil fertility. Soils and Fert. 21, 209–219.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Sharpley A N and Syers J K 1976 Potential role of earthworm casts for the phosphorus enrichment of run-off waters. Soil Biol. Biochem. 8, 341–346.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Sharpley A N and Syers J K 1977 Seasonal variation in casting activity and in the amounts and release to solution of phosphorus forms in earthworm casts. Soil Biol. Biochem. 9, 227–231.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Sharpley A N, Syers J K and Springett J A 1979 Effect of surface-casting earthworms on the transport of phosphorus and nitrogen in surface runoff from pasture. Soil. Biol. Biochem. 11, 459–462.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Springett J A 1983 The effect of five species of earthworm on some soil properties. J. Appl. Ecol. 20, (in press).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Springett J A and Syers J K 1983 Effect of pH and calcium content of soil on earthworm cast production in the laboratory. Soil. Biol. Biochem. 15, (in press).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Stockdill S M J and Cossens G G 1966 The role of earthworms in pasture production and moisture conservation. Proc. N.Z. Grassland Assoc. 28, 168–183.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Syers J K and Springett J A 1983 Earthworm ecology in grassland soils.In Earthworm Ecology. Ed. J E Satchell. Chapman and Hall, London.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Syers J K, Sharpley A N and Keeney D R 1979 Cycling of nitrogen by surface-casting earthworms in a pasture ecosystem. Soil Biol. Biochem. 11, 181–185.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Waters R A S 1955 Numbers and weights of earthworms under highly productive pasture. N.Z. J. Sci. Technol. 36, 516–525.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk Publishers 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. K. Syers
    • 1
  • J. A. Springett
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil ScienceMassey University, and Ministry of Agriculture and FisheriesPalmerston NorthNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations